Short answer

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A short answer is the natural way to answer a polar question (also known as a "yes/no question"), that is, a question which invites a simple yes/no answer.

Polar questions begin with an auxiliary verb or modal verb and are usually, but not always, answered with the same auxiliary/modal verb. We use ellipsis to avoid having to repeat the rest of the words in the question.


Verb Verb infelction Tense Pronouns Example yes response Example uncontracted no response Example contracted no response(s) Notes
be am present I Yes, I am No, I am not No, I'm not
are present you, we, they Yes, you are No, you are not No, you're not / No, you aren't
is present he, she, it, one Yes, it is No, it is not No, it isn't / No it's not
was past I, he, she, it, one Yes, I was No, I was not No, I wasn't
were past you, we, they Yes, you were No, you were not No you weren't
do do present I, you, we, they Yes, I do. No, I do not. No, I don't.
does present he, she, it, one Yes, it does. No, it does not. No, it doesn't.
did past All Yes, I did. No, I did not. No, I didn't.
have have present I, you, we, they Yes, I have. No, I have not. No I haven't.
has present he, she, it Yes, it has. No, it has not. No, it hasn't.
had past All Yes, I had No, I had not. No, I hadn't.
can can present All Yes, I can. No, I cannot No, I can't
could past All Yes, I could No, I could not. No, I couldn't
will will present All Yes, I will. No, I will not. No, I won't
would past All Yes, I would No, I would not. No, I wouldn't.
may may present All Yes, I may. No, I may not. ?No, I mayn't. "Mayn't" is rare
might past All Yes, I might. No, I might not. No, I mightn't.
must must present All Yes, I must. No, I must not. No, I mustn't.
shall shall present All Yes, I shall. No, I shall not. No, I shan't.
should past All Yes, I should. No, I should not. No, I shouldn't.
ought to ought to present All Yes, I ought to. No, I ought not to. No, I oughtn't to.
dare dare present All Yes, I dare. No, I dare not. No, I daren't.
need need present All Yes, I need. No, I need not. No, I needn't.

Correct responses[edit]

It is important that students learn to include the modal verb after "yes" or "no" as answering with a simple "yes" or "no" will be taken by a native speaker to indicate that the speaker is either being rude or has no interest in the conversation and the conversation will end abruptly, with both parties possibly feeling mildly offended. Obviously the speaker can omit the "I do" part if (s)he then goes on to say something else immediately afterwards:

  • Does she speak English? - No, but she's started taking lessons.

Students should also take care to repeat the modal or auxiliary and not the verb. In other words, the answer to the question Do you like chocolate? is Yes, I do. (*Yes, I like.). (The longer, more complex, answer to this is that it's OK to say "Yes, I verb" only if the verb is used intransitively. Thus, e.g. we can ask "Do you dance?" and respond either "Yes, I do" or "Yes, I dance". The problem is that like is a transitive verb which cannot be used intransitively and therefore needs an object, so *"Yes, I like" is ungrammatical but "Yes, I like it/that" is grammatical. Don't try to explain this though, just correct them to "Yes, I do".)

Not all questions beginning with Did/Are you...? etc. lead to a simple yes/no answer. One way of getting students to respond more fully is by asking "either/or" questions, for instance, Did you..., or were you..?

Depending on context, some polar questions, such as Would you like a cup of tea?, require a totally different response, i.e. Yes, please./No, thanks.

Note that affirmative short answers require the stressed, non-contracted form: Yes, I am. (*Yes, I'm./Yes, I will. (*Yes, I'll.).

See also[edit]

External links[edit]